Halstead: Film fans hopeful cinema will get a new lease of life

The Halstead Empire

The Halstead Empire - Credit: Archant

Film fans in a north Essex town are hopeful a cinema that closed six years ago will open again before Christmas.

Almost 2,000 people have signed a petition to bring movies back to the Halstead Empire, the town’s only cinema, and supporters are hopeful they can raise the £40,000 required to buy a digital projector.

According to Martyn Prince, chairman of the trust that runs the Empire, the original decision to stop showing films was taken after a cinema multiplex opened at the Freeport shopping centre in nearby Braintree.

He said; “Whereas we were getting 30 to 50 people a night before Freeport opened, audiences were down to around 10 to 15 as more people went to Freeport. We couldn’t compete or afford to run the cinema and pay for the two full-time staff.”

Since then, the 260-seater Empire, which is owned by Halstead Town Council and manned by volunteers, has stayed open showing theatre and music productions. But a groundswell of support for films to return has been generated by a local man Craig Smith, who started the petition.

Mr Prince added: “I’ve been gobsmacked by the response. People don’t want the cost of travel to Freeport anymore and they say they like the comfy atmosphere of the Empire.

“We have been talking to Braintree District Council and Essex County Council and because we do a lot for the community, there is a good chance we will be in the running for a few grants to help us raise the funds. We are also doing our own fund-raising and if things go to plan we’d like to be showing films by December.”

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Mr Prince said the intention wasn’t to show films every day but to have two evening shows and an afternoon matinee each week, and a Saturday morning picture show for children several times a month.